As a longtime fan of the Ridge Racer series, I've been following its development on the Xbox 360 with more than mild interest. It was therefore a real treat to get to sit down with an early build and play it at X05 Toronto. The Namco representative on-site however, had been playing the finished product for a few days and it's his details on RR6 that really piqued my interest.

The demo in question featured one track, one car and no opponents to race against. It was still possible to drift around corners and gain nitrous to fill the three tanks that RR6 has. Now, once the tanks are filled, it is up to the driver to decide how many he/she will "blow" in order to gain control of the race. A button combo-press then initiates nitrous and if you find yourself in the midst of a drift during the end of your nitrous run (and manage to keep it successfully), you actually regain some of your nitro. But rest assured, once nitro is used, corners become a little more complex to navigate, let alone drift through.

At its core, the Ridge Racer series (excluding its black sheep cousin - R: Racing Evolution) has always been about taking fast, sleek-lined, futuristic looking cars onto clean, ergonomically designed tracks and drifting your way around corners to victory. RR6 doesn't seem to stray too far from that formula but the handling of the cars seems a little less like RR4/RR5 and a little more like R: Racing Evolution for the simple fact that it seems that your car is connected to a popsicle stick in front of you and is quite intent on staying as centered as possible. Yes, the car sways during drifts, but just long enough for the camera to snap back behind it. What does this feel like? Well, it takes a lot away from the sense of speed of the game. And unfortunately, in the early demo build anyways, even using two tanks of nitro the game didn't seem to run very quickly. Maybe I've been jaded by the simulated speed of 160mph playing Burnout and Midnight Club, but the PSP version seemed to feel slightly faster than RR6. The drifting wasn't as fun as I remembered it either, but after playing a little bit of RR5 afterwards, it was definitely RR6 and not my memory that was to blame. The other area which may prove a problem is also the loading; RR6 takes a long time and it's heightened by the fact that all you see during loading is a screen divided in honeycombs with yellow coursing through them.
For anyone seeing only the negatives, I remember quite well playing early versions of RR5 on the PS2 and having the same sensations (and believe me, I love RR5). For longtime fans, you'll be happy to note that Reiko Nagase returns as the RR poster girl (what were we really expecting - it wouldn't be the same without her) and also Namco has peppered the game with other favorites - like a playable version of Pac-Man. The yellow gobbler also returns in the catch up in-lay (when you're making good time) and I can only assume (and hope) that the Pac-Man car is in there as an unlockable as well.

Speaking to the Namco Rep about the finished version, here are the impressions I've gathered: The core of the game is truly the new World Explorer Mode in which you will take part in 230 single events. In these events, you can opt to get a nitro boost from the start, but like the Ninja Dog mode in Ninja Gaiden, you will be shamed by having small Bunny Ears next to your best time/trophy. You can always redo races later in order to "clear the shame". From what I gather, the A.I. is highly aggressive in World Explorer Mode (perhaps the hardest A.I. to date in a RR game) and making the smallest mistake can/will usually cost you the race. Also, you must beat an event outright (first place) in order to clear it. Much like in Top Gun, there are no points for second best (I promise no more 80's movie references).

World Explorer Mode will be set up like a honeycomb. If you clear an event, the 6 events around it now become playable as well. This is good news in light of the new aggressive A.I. I was also told that although there were many unlockables in the game, Namco would make us work for them. After 9 hours of playtime, the Namco representative had only won a handful of races and only managed to unlock 2 new cars (which can be viewed in full 3D glory in a garage-like interface).

The numbers I was given at X05 were as follows with regards to tracks, cars, etc: World Explorer Mode would feature 230 events, the game will have 130 cars and 30 tracks. I couldn't ascertain if cars would have some customization aspects like in RR5 (engine upgrade, aerodynamic packages, etc) or what type of unlockables the game would feature (the RR movies from past game a la PSP would be nice though). Much like the PSP version however, RR6 will feature most if not all of the tracks that we've come to love from the Ridge Racer series. I was also told that with the Live modes we could also expect a large quantity of downloadables.

Graphically, RR6 features very clean lines and no aliasing (as other early 360 builds were demonstrating). The courses were a little sparse, but there's still plenty of time to change that. The nitrous effect was quite nice and the draw distances are "really" far. If you're a fan of the series, keep this one on your radar as it's shaping up as another solid entry in the wonderful Ridge Racer franchise.